September 16, 2013



UNDER THE DOME hasn’t been particularly important as TV drama, but it’s provided some vital information to the broadcast network business.  After years–decades, really–of treating summer as a repository for scripted burn-offs (this summer’s The Goodwin Games as well as flops like Do No Harm and 666 Park Avenue) and cheap international co-productions (Camp, Crossing Lines, Siberia, Motive, etc) amid the unscripted shows, and letting cable air all the high-profile dramas from June to mid-September, it turns out that an A-level scripted project can do terrific network business in the “off-season.” NBC, for one, would have been thrilled with one of its dramas during the regular season scoring 18-49 ratings in the mid-to-high-2s like Dome has.

Under the Dome has been a roaring success, but it’s uneven as a narrative.  Fluctuating from close faithfulness to the Stephen King novel on which it’s based to extreme variation, it’s been an odd mix of sci-fi fantasy thriller, soap, and silliness.  The major characters are roughly the same, but the tone is often markedly different, with King’s admittedly overblown political parable about the rise of fascism (and all-American equivalents) toned down quite a bit, so that the only real villain is used car salesman Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris, who must miss the depth of material he had on Breaking Bad).  Big Jim’s son Junior (Alexander Koch), a homicidal madman in the novel, is merely unbalanced here and perhaps not that bad a guy, while hero Barbie (Mike Vogel) has a mostly new backstory.  Also, the need to keep Dome going as a continuing series has required the action to be stretched and kept far away from any real climaxes.

Tonight’s Season 1 finale (the show has already been renewed for next summer), written by series developer Brian K. Vaughn and Scott Gold, and directed by Jack Bender, did provide some nuggets of revelation.  The Dome that’s come down over Chester’s Mill was, as in the book, sent by another (seemingly alien, but who knows) civilization, although with very different (almost opposite) motives than the novel’s creatures. Julia (Rachelle Lefevre) was revealed as the “monarch” of the mini-dome and its all-powerful egg, which so far meant that she got to decide to drop the egg into the local lake, prompting a blinding break in the darkness that had descended over the town.  While Barbie was left with the Rennies’s noose around his neck in the purported cliffhanger ending, it’s safe to assume he’ll survive.

Under the Dome is extremely ambitious by network summer standards (and by CBS drama standards in general), but it’s still lightweight.  With the exception of Norris, no one does any impressive acting, with “distraught” as the emotion mostly shown by young heroes Joe McAlister (Colin Ford), his sister Angie (Britt Robertson) and Mackenzie Lintz (Norrie).  As much as CBS proudly parades the pilot’s cow split down the middle in every possible promo, the special effects are largely second-rate, and there’s a bare minimum of them. Very little time is spent on the everyday problems caused by the Dome (food, weather, water), a particular strong point of King’s novel.  There have been some truly idiotic plot twists, especially the brief introduction of evil Maxine (Natalie Zea), who suddenly appeared after supposedly hiding for most of the season, immediately introducing Fight Club, gambling and other vices to the town (luckily, Big Jim put her and us out of our collective misery).  Characters like Sheriff Esquivel (Natalie Morales) are hopelessly muddled.

With all its many faults, though, Under the Dome has the benefit of King’s strong through-line of a story, as well as an often breathless pace.  It doesn’t take itself as seriously as most contemporary shows in its dystopian genre and it keeps things superficially exciting with crisis piled upon crisis.  Perhaps the most exciting thing about it, though, is the groundwork it’s laying for what could be much more interesting network shows in summers to come.  The broadcast networks, too, have been under a dome–of their own devising.  Perhaps they’re ready to crawl out.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."